Raymond Tanter is president of the Iran Policy Committee and teaches courses on terrorism and weapons proliferation at Georgetown University. From 1981 to 1982, he served at the White House as a senior member of the National Security Council. On March 10, 2010, Mr. Tanter addressed the Middle East Forum at a Philadelphia conference on how U.S. policy can promote regime change in Iran.
Mr. Tanter began by emphasizing that, since June 12, 2009, Iran has changed more than President Obama's Iran policy. He added that, if U.S. policy led rather than followed the Iranian street, the situation in Iran could be comparable to 1979: As in the revolution of 1979, Iranians again want regime change and today's opposition is inclusive, whereas the 1999 and 2003 protests lacked the broad coalition present in 1979. Today's street protests need to hear more from the United States to broaden the coalition.
Mr. Tanter next addressed the split within Iran's Islamist regime, between a "loyal opposition" (i.e., Mousavi, Karroubi, Rafsanjani, and Khatami) and the clerical/military ruling elite of Ahmadinejad and Khameini. A similar split exists within the opposition: there is the "loyal opposition" and the "disloyal opposition," which seeks regime change. Of the latter, the Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK) and the National Council of the Resistance of Iran (NCRI) are the most powerful organizations, increasingly gaining popularity as their regime change agenda is being adopted by the Iranian street. According to Mr. Tanter, the more organized the Iranian street, the greater the chances of a revolution like that of 1979 against the current regime.
Mr. Tanter next discussed various proposals for U.S. policy vis-à-vis the Iranian regime. At present, there are four main approaches being advocated: 1) More engagement and further concessions to the regime; 2) Engagement and containment of a nuclear-armed Iran; 3) Regime change (considering that there is a better chance for such change than for Tehran to abandon its nuclear program); 4) Direct military strikes to eliminate the nuclear threat and signal resolve to America's friends and enemies.
According to Mr. Tanter, President Obama stands somewhere between a policy of engagement and containment (2) and a policy of regime change (3). Even as the administration believes that tough sanctions could bring about regime change, it downplays the organized opposition in favor of talks with the regime.
Mr. Tanter concluded by delineating an alternative approach: Research indicates that it would be in the U.S.'s interest for Washington to remove restrictions on the Iranian opposition (e.g., by removing the MEK and NCRI from the list of terrorist organizations), while imposing tough, comprehensive, and targeted sanctions. As for America's part, Mr. Tanter affirmed that Washington can play a vital role in helping the Iranian people to depose the regime by providing rhetorical and covert support to the Iranian opposition movement without having to resort to external regime change as in the takedown on Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Summary written by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi.